WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR CANADA TO BECOME A SERIOUS COUNTRY?
Canada has neglected defense spending for decades. This makes Canadians less safe at home and abroad, Canada a less reliable partner to its allies and partners, and Ottawa less fit to lead on the international stage.
At the 2014 NATO summit in Wales, following Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, the Alliance pledged to spend 2-per-cent of GDP on defense by 2024. To say the global security environment has deteriorated since then is an understatement.
Some highlights include:
ISIL established an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Despite being defeated in the Levant, Islamists inspired by the terrorist organization have since spread their tentacles as far as the Sahel region of Africa.
The two decades-long democratic experiment in Afghanistan ended with American and Turkish withdrawal. The Taliban re-captured Kabul, Afghan women are again subject to a regime of gender apartheid, and the country may be used as a base of operations for terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda once more.
Iran, the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, has destabilized the Middle East by supporting terrorist groups based in Gaza, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Tehran is also on the verge of acquiring enough fissile material to develop a nuclear weapon.
North Korea, the rogue state that starves its people or sells them as slaves, has increased the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal and developed the intercontinental ballistic missiles required for its nuclear warheads to reach the American continent.
China has targeted elected members of parliament, operated illegal police stations in Canada, and built the world’s biggest navy. Beijing constructs military outposts on artificial islands outside of its territorial waters in the South China Sea, is committed to bringing Taiwan under its control and intends to expel the U.S. from the Indo-Pacific.
Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a great power, launched a full-scale invasion to reconquer Ukraine, its former colony. That same barbaric country is also Canada’s neighbor in the Arctic. Save for U.S. forces based in Alaska, the far north remains completely defenseless in a similar contingency.
The Canadian government has nonetheless persisted as if nothing changed, and our allies have taken notice. In a personal blow to Canada, Ottawa was excluded from joining AUKUS alongside three of its Five Eyes partners (the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia). It seems Ottawa must wait a while longer for the opportunity to acquire nuclear submarines – if ever.
Yes, Canada is leading a multinational battle group in Latvia. Yet Ottawa failed to increase the number of soldiers deployed on NATO’s eastern flank in response to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine despite pledging to do so in 2022. Even worse, in June, the CBC reported that Canadian troops were buying their own equipment, including modern ballistic helmets, rain gear, vests, and belts for carrying supplies, due to embarrassing shortages.
That same month, Canada was unable to participate in Air Defender 2023. The biggest aerial wargame in NATO’s history brought together up to 10, 000 soldiers from 25 different countries operating 250 aircraft under one command. Perhaps Canada would’ve participated if it didn’t take a decade of indecision to purchase F-35 fighter jets to modernize Canada’s ancient fleet of aging CF-18s.
Somehow, none of the above has motivated Canada to reach deeper into its pockets, and take defense spending, national security, and foreign policy more seriously. In fact, Ottawa has doubled down on doing the opposite. Months ago, the Washington Post reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told NATO officials that Canada would “never” reach the 2-per-cent spending target.
Although the long list of embarrassments seems endless for Canada, leadership still comes in all shapes and sizes.
While Washington practically begged Ottawa to help the Haitian people rebuild their state, Kenya, a country with less than 30, 000 soldiers, an economy 20 times smaller than Canada, and located halfway across the world, rose to the occasion. Let that sink in: Nairobi, not Ottawa, will be leading the long-awaited multinational security force tasked with restoring order in Haiti.
Another compelling example is Greece, a country with an economy seven times smaller than Canada. Although Athens experienced a crippling debt crisis, flirted with Grexit, and experimented with populism, it still manages to spend more than 3.5-per-cent of its GDP on defense. Consider the extra 1.5-per-cent as a premium for being in two tough neighbourhoods, the Balkans and the East Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, Canada, a member of the G7 with 40 million people and a 2 trillion-dollar economy, can barely pretend it’s attempting to reach NATO’s 2-per-cent target. Unless we consider that Ottawa sought to pad its stats by extending the meaning of “military spending” to include investments in space, cyber and artificial intelligence research this past summer.
Bereft of the vision required to navigate the complex realities of international relations with a coherent interest-oriented and ally-centric strategy, it’s no wonder that Ottawa has little means of defending its interests abroad let alone projecting power beyond its borders.
Truth be told: the idea that Canada can deter, defend, and balance against – let alone defeat – would-be aggressors, be a reliable partner to our allies, or promote the liberal values Canadians cherish, like secular democracy, freedom of expression, LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality, in the international community without hard power is a fairy tale.
Once again, the Government of Canada will fail the Canadian Armed Forces with this proposed spending cut to the defense budget. One can only wonder: what will it take for Canada to become a serious country?
Originally published by National Newswatch on October 27, 2023.